Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"A History of Pagan Europe"

Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, “A History of Pagan Europe”, (Routledge U.K., 1995, Reprint 2005, ISBN 0-415-15804-4)

People new to Paganism will benefit greatly from this book. By tracing Pagan religious history from early Crete to modern Europe, Jones and Pennick introduce people to the depth of Pagan philosophy. By placing the European peoples in their Pagan religious milieu, the authors eliminate various Christian filters. Unlike many other books, Jones and Pennick do not assume that monotheism is the epitome of Western civilization.

By detailing Christian versus Pagan thought, the authors give the readers a solid grounding in Paganism. In discussing Roman piety, the authors write, “Interesting the Latin word superstitio simply meant religious practice which was outside the State rituals…private religion which could well be duly registered…. The Romans regulated people’s actions; the Greeks with finer sophistication, also judged people’s attitudes,” (p. 49) What I conclude from this is that Pagans usually regarded the structure of worship to be the most important.

This book expands on the tensions between Pagans and Christians. Two concepts in the Christian religion put them on the offensive. As a rule, Pagans were tolerant of other Pantheons, as long as the State Gods were properly honored. Christians, on the other hand, regarded the belief in any God but theirs (heresy) was a sin. Sin, another alien concept, baffled many Pagans. People break laws but they do not ‘stain their souls’. To “save” them, Christians had to forcibly convert Pagans.

What surprised me is the durability of Paganism. Instead of disappearing, it forced Christianity to adapt to it. For example, many early Christian saints are Pagan Gods in disguise. Many Pagan customs are intertwined with Christian holidays. Few Christians, today, know that many of their holidays are Pagan High Holidays, with a Christian flavor.

After discovering the varieties of various Pagan faiths, the reader takes heart that people can go back to their ancestral faiths. The history of Paganism in Europe is a fascinating one. Rather than the progression to monotheism that many histories present, this book shows how Pagan philosophies borrowed from each other. Each had their own specific focus but adapted from others. Celts borrowed from the Romans, while the Finns borrowed from the Norse. The Gods remain eternal, worshipped in Their various Aspects by peoples.

No comments: